One of my committments to myself during Black History Month was to read more BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color) authors and I chose Behold the Dreamers off my shelf. I purchased this a few months back at the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale. This debut novel by Imbolo Mbue examines the life of Jende Jonga & his wife Neni, immigrants from Cameroon trying to make it in New York City. Jende gets a job as a driver for Clark, an executive at Lehman Brothers before the Great Recession.
I absolutely loved this novel. For a debut novel, Mbue has created such dynamic & beautiful characters. I was super invested in Jende’s quest for legal immigrant status and in Neni’s friendships in NYC. Mbue was born in Cameroon and came to the US when she pursued a higher education. I could tell that her own story of immigration was woven into the fabric of the story.
This novel not only looked at the story of immigration, but also deeply examined class. Jende’s boss, Clark, is extremely wealthy. It was fascinating to see the dichotomy of these two lives who are so intertwined, yet so different. Jende shared a room with his wife and son in a tiny Brooklyn apartment, while Clark & his family have multiple houses all over the country. It also touched on the Great Recession, and how those in power acted both before and after the market fell — and what wealth does to your character.
I also was obsessed with the description of food in this novel. Mbue made my mouth water when she discussed Cameroonian food! Everything sounded delicious.
This novel was a well-written and a really riveting look at the American Dream and parenthood, and made me question what the right choices are for our kids, and what sacrifices we should make in order to make those choices. It also was an important examination of the definition of ‘home’ and really made me think so much. This was absolutely a 5-star read for me and I encourage you to grab this one soon if you haven’t read it yet!